7
SCALING UP FOR THE WIN

In 2002, the banks wouldn't touch us with a ten-foot pole because our only asset was our family home (which the bank already owned most of), so we had to find money some other way. My greatest fear was losing the house that Jeff and I had worked so hard for. (Admittedly, Jeff worked really hard to buy our house. While I was gallivanting around the world, Jeff was saving money. He purchased his first house as a 19-year-old — who does that? He was saving for a house and I was sailing around the world with David Bowie. The ‘Gods of Yin and Yang' must have had a good laugh when they put us together. But he had assets and I had debt — a perfect match in my opinion.)

In the end, we risked it all. We sold our only asset, the family home, and invested all the money into the business. We packed up the kids and moved the family and the business into a rental for two years.

Picking the right mentor

By the end of 2002, we had opened 15 stores and were going strong. There were 50 stores opened by the end of 2003. I could see a permanent frown on my brow — it seemed to have cut deeper into my forehead every morning. I was learning as quickly as I could. I did not have mentors; in fact, I did not have friends. I did not have time to sit down for a coffee let alone a chat. One morning in 2002, I was sitting at my desk when I saw a note to call Geoff Harris. I had spent most of my adult life abroad so I certainly was not up with the ‘who's who' in business (and these were still the early days of Google), but it turned out this Geoff person wanted to meet and discuss the business. Geoff wasn't the first person to show interest in the business, and we were very guarded about who we wanted to ‘play' with. We did not know much, but we did know that we wanted great people around us to enjoy the journey with. We had already rejected many, many offers from people to get involved.

However, Jeff and I decided I should meet with Geoff Harris at a cafe. We sat down and he showed me the latest BRW Rich List. (BRW is the Australian business bible.) Upon reading his name and his worth in the Rich List, I spilt my entire coffee onto his lap and note pad. Not the best start to a relationship. Now, you may be thinking, What a show-off, but he simply wanted to show us that he was not a tyre-kicker. Geoff was someone genuinely interested in us and our business. I quickly learned what I probably should have known already — he was the co-founder of Flight Centre, one of Australia's great success stories. And, for the record, you could not find a more generous, kind, loyal and considerate man on the planet.

Over the next four months, Geoff gave us ‘precious gems' of strategic business foresight and never asked for anything in return. By the fifth month, we were ready for him to get involved.

Some months prior to this decision, I had stopped doing the accounts and hired a CFO. I quickly discovered this recruitment decision was a mistake and I learned the first lesson in hiring the right people. The CFO I hired was previously employed by a business that had gone belly up. I'd assumed this would have given her hard-learned knowledge on what not to do; I was wrong. The figures we presented to Geoff Harris to review seemed to be all wrong. When his accountant said not to move forward, because there were problems with the integrity of the figures, I was alerted to our CFO problem. It wasn't that she wasn't trying; it was just that the job was too big for her.

Geoff did eventually buy into the business and we hired the right person to get the accounts balanced. I was thrilled to have him become a part of Boost. Geoff's buying into the business was simple; we agreed on a price, he handed me a cheque and that was it. I know lawyers are a necessary evil but if business deals could be done based on a handshake and someone's word, profit margins would certainly be a lot higher.

Geoff had a goal to utilise his knowledge and share it with another start-up. He then met Jeff and me and, thankfully, it was a perfect fit. Geoff quickly became my mentor; he was so generous with information and his experiences. In the coming years, we worked closely together and the direction of Boost changed in many positive ways. I spent many, many hours on the road with Geoff, looking at stores and picking his brains. We would meet at least once a month, and during these meetings I would always bring out my long list of questions about various issues that I was having at the time. Geoff is one of the good guys; he is honest, loyal and a true Aussie bloke if ever there was one. Geoff expanded my personal business knowledge dramatically.

Adding a Boost to Viva

As Boost was growing, we were always on the lookout for growth and synergies, so we had a relationship with our competitor Viva Juice. As mentioned, in 2002 we had a chat about merging but, due to unrealistic valuations, nothing eventuated. Two years on, however, we ended up concluding a deal for the purchase of the Viva Juice business. By that stage, we had over 80 stores and they had 24 stores, all owned by Viva and not franchised. They were the only real competitor we saw in the marketplace, and the owner had secured some great sites in the Melbourne and Sydney airports, which prevented us from getting into these positions.

The acquisition was a monumental learning process on all levels, because it was the first business that I had ever bought, so off I went on another massive learning curve — this time, learning all about acquiring a business. I learned the difference between a share sale and an asset sale, for example, because if we got this wrong it could cost us thousands in tax and risk exposure. Getting solid advice and working with consultants and lawyers that we trusted was critical. The legal arrangements were extraordinary, and the process was painfully long and detailed — in all, the negotiations lasted six months. In some respects, however, the process was aligned with my strength of being detail-oriented. And even though it was stressful, it was invigorating to complete.

My girl power team (Kristie, Naomi and Jacinta) came into their element through the Viva Juice acquisition. As I mentioned, in the beginning none of us really knew what to do — we were all doing it for the first time. However, we all cared enough to make sure that we got it right, which we did. The research and pulling of favours from all of our contacts ensured that we made the acquisition a success. Kristie was beside me until the final sign-off on the deal. I have now watched Kristie go from being a keen and passionate young lawyer to being a married woman with two beautiful children and her own law consulting firm, and I am so proud of what she has become.

On the very last day of the Viva deal, I was called into the legal office in Melbourne's CBD to finalise a number of minor points, having been told this would only take 30 minutes at most. I had been having dinner with some friends, so I remember arriving at 8 pm. The Viva owners were in the other room going through the so-called minor points. Issues started to go back and forth between the rooms, so we decided to get into one room to finalise these points. We left the boardroom at 11 am the next day. In utter disbelief, I clearly remember watching the sun come up; we had been negotiating all through the night. I do remember a couple of emotional outbursts and one walk-out, but the deal got done. Strategically, this was a great win for us; mentally it was OMG! We were already growing at a store a week, and now we'd thrown in converting an additional 24 stores and getting the Viva staff on board — it was a great lesson in change management. I remember hearing the Viva owners cracking champagne and celebrating the sale; all I could think about was what I had to do next to make this work.

A tired mess after the all-nighter, Kristie and I found a local gym where we could have a shower. Jeff met me at a cafe in the city and, I admit it, I had a bit of a meltdown to my husband that day, and may have demanded that he buy me something that ‘blinged'. After four years of growing the business and realising what was on my horizon with the additional stores to bring on board, I was beyond tired and emotional. I must have had a furious look, because Jeff went straight into a local jewellery store and indeed bought me something that ‘blinged'. The funny thing is, I am not even into jewellery; but it helped to signify another chapter in the journey.

Business Woman of the Year

As I've mentioned, franchising worked for Boost. At the start of 2004, we went out for dinner to celebrate our successes. The business was now turning over $1 million a week. And 2004 continued to be a massive year for us, with the Boost machine of training, building and marketing in overdrive. We were opening a store a week, and every day I seemed to be creating another spreadsheet for a system or process. The people who reported to me called me the ‘Task queen'. (I had discovered how to use the Task tab on Outlook and it was my saviour.) I could now effectively track the millions of moving parts that were Boost.

In 2004, we were also in ‘The Top 7 Businesses' in BRW's annual list of top 100 fastest growing businesses in the country. The hysterical thing was that same year I made the list in BRW's Young Rich list. The reason this was so funny? We had not taken a cent out of the business; every dollar made was put back into the business. For the first three years, I didn't take a salary. In year four, I did and it was $35 000. I was one of the lowest paid staff members at the time. I went shopping the day the article came out. When Jeff saw all the bags and raised an eyebrow at me, I smugly said, ‘Have you not read BRW? Apparently I can afford it!'

And this was the same year that I won the Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year award. I was absolutely thrilled, surprised and honoured, and the award was a pivotal turning point for me. The awards ceremony was the first time in over four years that I had networked. I had sourced out businesspeople here and there for lunch and their advice, but never in a larger group. With this award came the opportunity to meet some of Australia's most amazing and inspirational women. One was Launa Inman, who was the managing director of Target Australia at the time. Her journey from South Africa to becoming one of the leading businesswomen in retail in Australia is profound. I have enormous respect for Launa — not just as a businesswoman, but also as a friend. The other person I connected with was Judith Slocombe, who started out as a vet. She had her own pathology business that was purchased by Gribbles, and she's now the CEO of The Alannah and Madeline Foundation. What she has personally done for this foundation is quite extraordinary.

Both of these women have also won the Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year award. They too are mothers and wives facing the similar challenge of balancing their lives with their love for business. All of us enjoy what we do. We have a passion for creating and driving forward this think tank we call business. Between the three of us, we have 15 children (Judith has the lion share with nine). Although we do not catch up as much as we would like, we meet at the national Telstra awards dinner annually and are on the end of the phone whenever needed.

Cracks in the foundation

We were hot! Revenue was pouring in. Store sales were increasing year on year by nearly 30 per cent. Obviously, all the partners were happy and making money. We seemed to be flying. That's when the cracks started appearing.

The first crack was something that I didn't even see coming. The success of the brand meant franchise opportunities were in hot demand — and our early franchise partners knew it. They were onselling their businesses, sometimes for five times more than they paid for them. We could not legally then (and nor can we today) tell people how much they could sell their businesses for. However, problems emerged because the banks were lending to the incoming Boost franchisees, helping them to cover the premium sales prices. The consequent enormous repayments were making it difficult for the new franchise partners to make a profit.

I sourced out Lesley Gillespie, one of the founders of Bakers Delight (a company that had also used franchising to expand), and she told me this was a common problem. I was a massive fan of Bakers Delight and still think they are another true Australian success story. Lesley is a down-to-earth, no-nonsense woman who right from our first meeting was warm and likeable. Bakers Delight had been around for 25 years at the time, so they had gone through many of the same issues we were now facing. She shared some of the solutions that worked for them, such as the system they used for franchisees to report their financials (she was kind enough to actually give me the spreadsheet as well as permission to use it), and how they trained their incoming franchisees.

A number of uncontrollable environmental factors also put enormous strain on the ‘new' franchisees, in addition to some of the large loans. The second crack in our success started when A Current Affair (ACA) ran a story on juice bars, attempting to show they weren't such a healthy option (which made my blood boil, because we do everything to be healthy). Remember — Boost isn't just about selling smoothies and juices. It's about offering a whole experience that ends with, ‘I feel good about myself for choosing Boost'. For example, you walk into a store, the music is playing, there are bright, fun colours, and happy people and delicious fruit are all around you. Ideally, you're served by a smiling, happy, young person, and you walk away with a great experience and a healthy, great-tasting product. Now, if we get any of these things wrong, the concept will not work.

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ACA stated that juice bars were adding sugar to their juices, and that one juice or smoothie was equal to a Coke or a Big Mac. Our first reaction was that no-one in their right mind would believe the story — that we physically added sugar to our juices or that having a soft drink or a burger was equivalent health-wise to a highly nutritious juice. To our surprise, some people actually did believe it. To add to the drama, Today Tonight, the main competitor to ACA, did a story paralleling the claims about juice bars. This really got the public questioning whether Boost added sugar to our juices and smoothies, and wondering if our products were indeed as healthy as we said. I was horrified. I could not believe that people had started to doubt us. I thought if they saw how rigorously we vetted every product — if they realised how much time and effort went into taste, health and delivery — they would never believe these claims.

And then, as if this predicament wasn't bad enough, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) got involved. With over 50 competitor juice bars opening their doors, some claiming all sorts of health benefits, the ACCC stated that they would be investigating all juice bars and their claims. The problem was this: Boost was the largest juice chain, so people just assumed we were the ‘juice bars' the ACCC were after. The ACCC investigation was never directed at us, because we complied with all requirements and rules; our health claims on each product are 100 per cent backed up and documented. The customers did not know this, however; they only read the headlines.

The icing on the cake (if you will) was when Bondi Council in Sydney blamed Boost for the litter on the beaches in their area. I found myself on radio station after radio station defending our honour against the ACCC and Bondi Council. Over and over, I explained that we had never and would never put sugar in our juices — and surely people were responsible for putting their own rubbish in the bin.

All of this attacked our core principle of ‘I feel good about myself for choosing Boost'. Sales went from exceeding forecast, to flat, and then to negative growth. When your business starts to go in the wrong direction, it takes everything you have to stop the slide and turn it around. The worst thing: people believed what was written about us. It was simply wrong and unjust. I was crushed. What I needed to do was ‘get over it', start to look within the business for solutions and not be a victim.

During this insane time for Boost, Jeff was amazing to have on my side. Having been in the tough, ruthless world of radio for 22 years, he had learned a thing or three and enjoys a good battle. (I think Jeff has read every war book ever published.) He is a very strategic thinker and sees the ‘big picture' quickly.

The first thing we did was hire a lawyer for advice. We believed what the networks did was misleading. We contacted both networks and worked out an agreement, and they then assisted us in getting the correct message out in the media.

The second battle was the perception of our packaging and, by extension, its environmental cost. Were the cups we used the best product for the environment? We contracted an environmental firm to compare and contrast. At the end of this report (and a dozen other reports we checked), it was conclusive at that time, that foam was indeed the best product for takeaway packaging. (Of course, new developments in packaging are always taking place and so we review our products on a yearly basis. Based on these reviews, we have now moved to a paper product for our cups, and we will continue to look at ways of creating a lighter footprint on this planet.)

The third thing we did was hire well-known nutritionist Shane Bilsborough and hop on the PR train to get our message out: ‘A smoothie or juice is always a healthy option!' Our philosophy on health is really simple; in fact, Dr John Tickell explains it the best. He says people would not have a weight or health problem if they did not worry about the latest diet fad, but instead followed the low-HI diet, or low-human-intervention diet. In other words, a diet that includes food that is as ‘close' to the tree or ground as possible, and contains little or no processed foods. Let's not kid ourselves — if you read the back of a packet, can or bottle and find a ridiculous amount of numbers and words that you cannot pronounce in the ingredients list, you know that's not low-HI food.

By implementing these strategies, we were on the road to fixing some of the root causes of the external cracks at Boost, not just bandaging them. I could finally breathe.

Checking our internal cracks

All of the solutions mentioned in the previous section were great and they worked, but our biggest success came through picking up a mirror and looking hard into it, to see where the really major problems were. We had gotten complacent, arrogant and reactive. Growing to over 100 stores in four years meant we had also started to show some cracks internally, including in our staff training and systems. Our stores were looking tired, and so was our team. We just were not attacking every part of the business — so that's exactly what we did.

Geoff Harris's view was that we needed to keep the business compartmentalised, which would then make people accountable for their own areas and expenses, and reward people for their successes. So that's what we did. We broke each part of Boost into simple pieces. We began to get back on our toes and think proactively, reviewing and changing how we reported, cutting $2 million in expenses, and building a strong profit centre mentality in the business. No longer was there a black pit of expenses, as we reviewed small things, such as printing double-sided and only in black and white, as well as larger areas. We renegotiated everything we could, from our auditing and accounting costs to our raw ingredient contracts. We worked harder and smarter. The business became better because we took a hard look at ourselves — rather than blaming the world for our woes.

Part of the marketing campaign to get back on track was hiring the latest hot hunk Tom Williams as our brand ambassador. New South Wales was struggling, so Jeff also came up with the ‘Week Day Sucks' campaign. We invested heavily in PR and ran tactical promotions on television, press and radio.

On the HR side, I again spoke to Lesley (from Bakers Delight). She was generous not only with her time but also with her tools, which never in my wildest dreams had I expected. During our meeting, we discussed all sorts of topics, including the challenges that she had faced growing a franchise network. Most of our discussion came back to the same thing: people. The horror stories were people-based and so were the success stories.

Systems and processes are the heart of a franchise network, and from my meeting with Lesley I realised Bakers Delight were light years ahead of us in their systems and knowledge. Lesley was more than happy to give us any system that would help and also allowed our executives to meet with her executives to see what each department could learn from the other. (In fairness, we were doing more of the learning than they were.) Many of the systems that we use today are a result of those meetings with Lesley.

After meeting with Lesley, we reviewed our training regime and HR strategy. These improvements at Boost were so effective they reduced our overhead by nearly $1 million.

We then looked at the stores that were looking tired, and started to upgrade both our company and franchise stores. This investment worked tenfold — each store that was upgraded immediately had an increase in sales.

From these few, meaningful process improvements came a dozen more; from this dozen came a dozen more and so on. This was the tipping point and it spread throughout Boost like wildflowers.

This was a pivotal time in the business. The positive outcome and lessons learned made Boost the strong business it is today. Once we were back on the road to success, looking back and remembering all the stress and uncertainty that this period brought made me realise the downturn actually made us a stronger, more systematic and a substantially better company. When people ask me what our worst time was, my answer is, ‘You have to have hard, challenging times to be great'. Going through the fear that your business is in trouble is no fun at all; however, what makes a business great is what people do in the turbulent waters, not what they do when it is smooth sailing.

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The experience also taught us a great deal about ourselves. Jeff was the ‘it will be okay' person, while I was the ‘problem solver', running on fear and adrenaline. So I knew the risks of everything we did and all the ‘what ifs'. Jeff was big picture, and did not share my fear of failure. His attitude and calmness (probably based on not knowing the details!) kept me sane. The stress that you go through when running a fast-growing business is enormous; Jeff had that ability when I walked in the door to make me feel everything would be all right. Without Jeff's calm energy, I would have fallen into a heap during this time. I know I mention Jeff a lot through this book, but that's because he has had the biggest influence on me. (So if there's a little repetition, it's because he deserves it.) Jeff has helped shape the woman I am today. He had more faith in me than I had in myself, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Most of the executives on the Boost journey have also made a huge difference. I've already mentioned just some of the many people who were a part of the initial team. I cannot say this enough: if we had hired the wrong people at the start it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to get Boost to where it is today. Mark, our former CFO, created the financial systems and processes we have now, enabling us to truly grow. There are also many franchisees along the journey whose passion and brutal honesty helped us to continually improve.

Hitting the wall

After the domestic improvements, the international side of the business had also picked up significantly and my focus was to grow that side of the business (I felt like it was my new ‘baby'). The intricacies of contracts and the differences in the countries and cultures suited my background. We were dealing with people from all walks of life, in places I had never dreamed I would visit. From Arabia, with men in their long white robes, to Estonia, where we had to walk in the middle of the road so we were not killed by falling snow from the rooftops.

I was obsessed with getting the international side of the business up and running, but this kept me away from my family for over three months a year. My work–life balance pendulum was angling all the way to the work side. I had developed into a strong, confident businessperson with significant knowledge on how to start a business and make it a success, and had formed very strong bonds with people in my team; however, I was losing touch with my husband and family.

Going at this ridiculous pace, it was inevitable that I would get to a point when there was nothing left in the tank. Trips to a health retreat every year had helped, but there comes a time in every business that the reins need to be shared. This brings new ideas, experience and passion to the table. I believe it is vital for a business to have fresh ideas and enthusiasm to continually grow. In 2006, I met with Geoff and Jeff for coffee and we started to look at a succession plan; two years later, I was still holding the reins and the business was still growing at a massive pace. We wanted the best person and we were prepared to wait for them.

On a business trip to South Korea everything changed. I arrived a day early to get rid of jet lag and decided to have a massage. It was an over-the-top, great massage. I even had mud gloves on my hands to get rid of toxins. To this day, it is the best massage I have ever had. I can still see myself lying there. And it was during this massage that I had the most amazing epiphany (although I don't think it was due to the mud gloves). I am not sure I have ever experienced such a strong, absolute feeling, and I still find it difficult to explain. In that moment, I just knew I wanted to have another baby. There was absolutely no logical reason for having this feeling. Was it because I knew my biological time was up? Was it the toll of too many days spent entrenched in a ‘man's world'? At the time, I was a director in the Hawthorn Football Club, an Australian Rules club, and in this and my other business groups I was one of very few women. Perhaps what I felt was an unbelievable desire to nurture, or simply it was a great excuse to step away from the business for a little while.

I was so excited after the massage I could hardly contain myself. I had to speak with my husband and tell him. I knew I faced a few problems before I even started. First, it would be impossible to reach Jeff because he was doing some work in Fiji. Second, per my request seven years ago, Jeff had had a vasectomy. So I did what any modern woman would do in the electronic age — I emailed him. I simply wrote, ‘I want another baby'. My husband is a man of very few words and within an hour I had a reply: ‘Sure!' I don't know what was going through his head at the time. He was probably laughing at me, because the vasectomy must have crossed his mind, but ‘sure' was enough for me. My goal was to have a baby; now I just had to solve all the problems that were stopping me achieve this goal.

Five minutes after getting the ‘sure', I did a Google search on vasectomy reversal. I came across a microsurgeon who was based in Sydney and who just happened to be the surgeon who did the first hand transplant. He was also part of the team who performed the first face transplant. South Korea was approximately on the same time as Australia so, after a few wrong attempts, I got to speak to the doctor. He said there was normally a six-month wait but he'd had a cancellation on Wednesday and could do the surgery that day. ‘That's fantastic — book him in', came flying out of my mouth. Far away, my unknowing husband was sunning himself in the beauty of Fiji. He was completely unaware of the plans I was putting in place. Of course, he had said ‘sure'.

I arrived back to Australia on the same day Jeff arrived back from Fiji. Timing is everything with Jeff. I made sure I was prepared and waited for the right moment, which came after we had put our three boys to bed. We were relaxing with candles and wine. I had the lighting at just the right level. Jeff casually referred to my email. ‘Oh that', was my attempt to downplay my hours of frantic research and phone calls. Suddenly I couldn't hold it in and blurted out all the facts and data; the romance went out like the candles. I was speaking so fast, but Jeff just sat back, smiled and said he would do it. He suggested that we start the research on reversing the vasectomy. My eyes widened, ‘No need — I have found a surgeon who is world-renowned'. Jeff didn't say anything, so I pressed on. ‘We are sooooo lucky because he can do the surgery this Wednesday.' This took Jeff back a bit and, after a long pause, he said, ‘That would be my birthday!' Needless to say, I did not win wife of the year — although I did spend more on his birthday present that year than I had in all the years we had been together.

Jeff's vasectomy reversal was a success in theory; however, three and a half months and many failed tests later, none of the sperm were alive. We also interviewed for international adoption. Almost a year from the date of my epiphany, we were still no closer to having another child.

This baby continued to ‘tap' me on the shoulder from wherever she was, telling me to make it happen. Back to research my options. The next path was IVF and, although this road is complicated and emotional, I felt for me it was relatively painless. However, the first four attempts failed. All this was happening while Boost was growing leaps and bounds. We began to look into domestic adoption when a friend suggested a doctor in the United States who'd had amazing success. Because we were always travelling for Boost, we thought, Why not? After a further few unsuccessful attempts — finally, we were having another baby! I was 42 years old and going to be a mother for the fourth time; I could not have been happier. Jeff had been so supportive of me and this decision from his first ‘sure'. Watching him with his daughter and witnessing the love he has for his ‘princess' makes all the effort of all those years totally worth it.

Even with my focus on bringing the very much wanted Tahlia into the world, there was no question that we still had to grow — all businesses do. But growing any business and developing a brand is extremely difficult. Having successful systems and processes in place makes it easier, but people still tend to underestimate how hard it is to actually grow.

While Boost still had significant growth potential, we also understood it was not about growing Boost anywhere we could put a store; we were very strict on where we believed the Boost brand could be successful. At the same time, international growth was amazing, with 12 countries signing a master franchise agreement. Signing agreements to open Boost stores overseas is one thing; however, opening stores in these countries was slower than expected. Then it hit us — we were just so focused on growing the Boost brand domestically and internationally, we were not exploring other options.

Building a Zoo

We have always believed in the value of holding strategic, working retreats with the team, to evaluate where we have been and where we need to go. It was during one of these off-site retreats that we asked a single, simple question: ‘What are we good at?' A few hours of brainstorming and numerous whiteboard scribbles later, we discovered what we were good at wasn't our fluffy bits of marketing; it was our boring back-end. We were great at business, franchising, IT, design and development, legals and finance. These were our cornerstones. These back-end departments gave the business the strong infrastructure required to grow. My annoying focus on every detail and refusal to outsource these departments were the keys to building these cornerstones into the foundations of our business. At the end of this exercise, it all seemed obvious; we'd identified what we were good at and would utilise that to grow.

After much discussion our strategy was to create a new parent company — Retail Zoo — of which Boost would be the foundation brand. Retail Zoo would facilitate the growth of strong, small businesses, using our proven back-end and marketing skills to make these concepts successful. The brands we would look at growing had to be pre-existing and had to show evidence of being successful models. Often the entrepreneurs who started these kinds of concepts struggled to take their businesses to the next level. Largely, this was due to lack of expertise and the resources required to do so. Retail Zoo, however, had both the financial and intellectual resources to take a four- to ten-store business model and grow it within Australia and around the world. What you discover when you speak to businesses of all sizes is that strategy is 10 per cent of the success — execution is where the real value lies. We had the know-how to execute a concept into a successful brand and business.

Once this strategic step was made, everything fell into place. To be honest, after me growing Boost to where it was at this stage, the business needed new legs to continue the journey. Jeff was fresh after a year's break and we were ready to swap roles; he was chomping at the bit to make his mark on the company. Jeff became the CEO, Retail Zoo was born and we started the journey of buying up-and-coming brands.

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Jeff came across a brand in Chadstone Shopping Centre (in Melbourne) called Salsa's Fresh Mex Grill. I've always been a fan of authentic Mexican food and the variety of dishes it offers — while I don't like Mexican food that's stodgy, heavy, dull and uninspired, I love Mexican food that's made with fresh ingredients such as coriander, red and green chillies, tomatoes and limes. We have our own Aussie version once a week, and it's such a great way for the family to put together their favourite combination.

Like the smoothie and juice industry when we started Boost Juice, when we first looked at Salsa's Fresh Mex Grill there was not really a ‘fresh Mex' category in Australia, or not one that was well known. In the United States, Chipotle Mexican Grill was growing a market in this fresh Mex category, after early investment from McDonald's. Salsa's Fresh Mex Grill had four company-owned stores and they were operated by Lawrence Di Tomasso — a wonderful man with a real passion for his food. The financial numbers coming out of the stores were amazing, thus proving Lawrence had found a successful fresh Mex formula for the Australian palate. We invested in the company and then, a year later, purchased the whole company. Since then, we have taken Salsa's from four stores to over 70 stores (at the time of writing). The Mexican wave is here, with a number of contenders now in the marketplace — again, a very similar trend to that of the juice market in 2004. Like the juice market, the fresh Mex market will settle down to a couple of dominant players. Lawrence is no longer in the business; he was handsomely rewarded and is now building his next concept.

Salsa's has been an excellent addition into the Retail Zoo family. In any business, change is one of the hardest things to manage and Retail Zoo was no different. Retail Zoo went through its own transition period, moving from everything being about Boost to a situation where people needed to think, and systems needed to be bigger and broader. Managing this change led to one of Jeff's greatest skills: his ability to hire great people. We have two different leadership styles — I am more hands-on, while Jeff is more hands-off. His looser reins allow his executives to thrive, and his new ideas and approach have proven to be incredibly successful, taking Retail Zoo to the next level.

One such hire was current CEO, Scott Meneilly, who has been with Boost since 2008.


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